“Who are you?” Valanice asked. “How do you know my name?”

The cat rose to its feet and stretched in the same way a man would, in fact, by the tone of its voice, the queen realized that it was a male…whatever his species was.

“I have come a long way to be with you, my lady. My time is many centuries from yours, but I have found a shortcut to the era you and your family reside in. My name is Jack. Half of me is human, half is feline. The story of how I actually came to be is a long one, and I can’t discuss it with you at the moment. Please…would you escort me back to your beautiful palace. I have wanted to see it the way it truly is for a long, long time.”

Stunned, Valanice took the furry hand that the cat-man offered to her, and began leading him back to the garden.

“Are you a magic creature?” Valanice asked in awe. “I’ve never seen one such as you.”

“I’m no more magic than you, Valanice,” Jack chuckled. “But I’d say that everything in this world and mine is magic. How else could one explain all the bizarre phenomena of reality?”

“True…” Valanice said solemnly. “I still would like to know how you are able to act like a human yet look like a beast – ” she stopped short, fearing that she had offended Jack.

“It is a story too complicated to explain,” said Jack. “Think of me as a man inside a cat. I too have a family. A father, a mother, a sister…”

“You have a sister? How odd. I have two children, just like you say your father does, and they’re both about your age…how old are you, Jack?”

“Seventeen, give or take a month. But Xandra and I aren’t twins, like your offspring are.”

“How do you know about Alexander and Rosella?” asked Valanice, a little shocked at the cat’s knowledge.

“Don’t fret, highness,” assured Jack, as they neared the gate leading back into the garden. “I think it’s time I told you the basics of my history.

“In the world that I came from, people have created stories about your country and the surrounding ones as well. They are no different than books, except whoever reads one enters the body of the main character, be it Graham, Alexander or Rosella, and control their movements until the story ends and a new one begins.”

“Are you certain you aren’t a sorcerer? That sounds too much like magic, Sir Jack.”

“Just Jack, Valanice, and no, it isn’t magic. Not by our laws it isn’t. As complex as technology is for you and your people now, in your future, it will grow even more intricate, until the very fantasies of this time will become the reality of future time.”

Valanice laughed like a child, in spite of her still-lingering nervousness about the stranger. “Surely you jest! Are you saying that flying carpets will actually be real?”

“In a sense, yes.”

“And crystal balls that let people see things from a great distance?”

“That too, yes.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Valanice,” said Jack, “Look at yourself. You were rescued by a man who rode across a pink ocean on the back of a talking, golden fish. Before that, he killed an undead creature that could turn into a bat at will. And what about your son’s and your daughter’s adventures? Did they ever say that they didn’t believe what was happening to them once in their journeys and expect their whole world to make sense? I think not.”

“You say such amazing things, Jack,” said Valanice. “And what makes them even more amazing is that they are true. I still don’t understand how a story could let you know every tiny piece of our history.”

“If only you lived long enough to see what my time looked like,” said Jack wistfully.

“The more you talk about it, the more I wish I could,” said Valanice.

“Maybe, Val. Just maybe,” said Jack. Valanice’s surprise at his addressing her by a nickname that she had rarely heard spoken except from Graham and her late parents was nothing compared to what happened next. Jack raised his left paw and gave her a heavy pat on the back, as if she were his brother. This so startled the queen that she nearly fell forward into the rose bushes that they were walking by.

“Jack, what on Earth…”

“Sorry, your majesty,” Jack said, his voice bulging with a snicker he was straining to keep silent. “I just…”

His voice suddenly reverberated like an echo and trailed off in a manner that didn’t seem normal to Valanice. She turned around and her eyes widened with terror. Jack had turned transparent, almost like a ghost or a reflection in a shallow pool. Like his last words, he was also fluttering, almost rippling as he tried to stand still, his eyes narrowed with concentration, but also with unmistakable fear.

“Thine…” he stammered. “Thine fear is not what I find startling, fair one…it is…it is betwixt me and my shadow, my mind and my body.”

As these last words were spoken, Jack’s body eventually slowed its flickering and his transparency vanished. His brow was wet and his legs were shaking.

“Jack, what happened?” Valanice gasped.

“It’s…it’s coming from another time…we speak very differently from you, and we have gestures that haven’t been invented until far beyond your time…that pat on the back was one of them…if I bring too many gestures from the future to this time, I might either die or…vanish from this Earth forever.”

“Are you certain?”

Jack suddenly grinned and chuckled, except there was a hint of a growl hidden in his laugh. “Actually, I have no idea, and I doubt anything that serious would happen. I just said those old words to get my feet on the ground again. The worst saying some words or doing some things from the future would do would probably change the language structure somewhat, perhaps remove a letter or two from a couple of words or change the pronunciation of a few others. It’s just that I have to speak and act like your people. A dog wouldn’t squeak like a mouse in a room filled with cats, would he?

"The only thing I’ve noticed happen to me personally whenever I slip up like I just did is that I get a headache and shaky legs. Nothing serious, though.”

“Well, I hope you are right, Jack,” said Valanice. “Don’t try to explain any more of it to me, even though I have barely any idea what you’re talking about.”

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